Francs-tireurs – literally "free shooters" – was used to describe irregular military
Irregular military
Irregular military refers to any non-standard military. Being defined by exclusion, there is significant variance in what comes under the term. It can refer to the type of military organization, or to the type of tactics used....

 formations deployed by France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 during the early stages of the Franco-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...

 (1870–71). It is sometimes used to refer more generally to guerrilla
Guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare and refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility to harass a larger and...

 fighters who operate outside the laws of war
Laws of war
The law of war is a body of law concerning acceptable justifications to engage in war and the limits to acceptable wartime conduct...


The term was revived and used by partisans to name two major French Resistance
French Resistance
The French Resistance is the name used to denote the collection of French resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and against the collaborationist Vichy régime during World War II...

 movements set up to fight against the Germans during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...



During the wars of the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, a franc-tireur was a member of a corps of light infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 organized separately from the regular army. The Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 word francotirador and the Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

 word franco-atirador, meaning sharpshooter or sniper
A sniper is a marksman who shoots targets from concealed positions or distances exceeding the capabilities of regular personnel. Snipers typically have specialized training and distinct high-precision rifles....

, are derived from the word franc-tireur.

Franco-Prussian War

Francs-tireurs were an outgrowth of rifle clubs or unofficial military societies formed in the east of France at the time of the Luxembourg crisis
Luxembourg Crisis
The Luxembourg Crisis was a diplomatic dispute and confrontation in 1867 between France and Prussia over the political status of Luxembourg. The confrontation almost led to war between the two parties, but was peacefully resolved by the Treaty of London....

 of 1867 (see History of Luxembourg
History of Luxembourg
The history of Luxembourg is inherently entwined with the histories of surrounding countries, peoples, and ruling dynasties. Over time, the territory of Luxembourg has been eroded, whilst its ownership has changed repeatedly, and its political independence has grown gradually.'Although recorded...

). The members were chiefly concerned with the practice of rifle-shooting. In case of war, they were expected to act as militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

 or light troops
Light infantry
Traditionally light infantry were soldiers whose job was to provide a skirmishing screen ahead of the main body of infantry, harassing and delaying the enemy advance. Light infantry was distinct from medium, heavy or line infantry. Heavy infantry were dedicated primarily to fighting in tight...

. They wore no uniform
A uniform is a set of standard clothing worn by members of an organization while participating in that organization's activity. Modern uniforms are worn by armed forces and paramilitary organizations such as police, emergency services, security guards, in some workplaces and schools and by inmates...

s, but they armed themselves with the best existing rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

s, and elected their own officers.

The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica described them as "at once a valuable asset to the armed strength of France and a possible menace to internal order under military discipline." The societies strenuously and effectively resisted all efforts to bring them under normal military discipline. The German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

s executed captured francs-tireurs as irregular, armed non-combatants, essentially what also came to be called guerrillas.

In July 1870, at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, the French Minister of War assumed control over the societies to organize them for field service. It was not until November 4, by which time the levée en masse
Levée en masse
Levée en masse is a French term for mass conscription during the French Revolutionary Wars, particularly for the one from 16 August 1793.- Terminology :...

 (universal conscription
Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

) was in force, that the militias were placed under the orders of the generals in the field. They were sometimes organized in large bodies and incorporated in the mass of the armies, but more usually they continued to work in small bands, blowing up culverts on the invaders' lines of communication, cutting off small reconnaissance parties, surprising small posts, etc.

The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica describes it as "now acknowledged, even by the Germans," that the francs-tireurs, by these relatively unconventional tactics, "paralysed large detachments of the enemy, contested every step of his advance (as in the Loire campaign), and prevented him from gaining information, and that their soldierly qualities improved with experience."

Francs-tireurs blew up the Moselle railway bridge at Fontenoy
Fontenoy may refer to:*Battle of Fontenoy *Battle of Fontenay *Fontenoy by Liam Mac Cóil-Places:Belgium:*Fontenoy, a village in the municipality of Antoing, BelgiumSeveral communes in France:*Fontenoy, in the Aisne département...

, January 22, 1871. The defense of Chateaudun
Châteaudun is a commune in the Eure-et-Loir department in northern France. It is a sub-prefecture of Eure-et-Loir.-Geography:Châteaudun is located about 45 km northwest of Orléans, and about 50 km south-southwest of Chartres, on the river Loir, a tributary of the...

 (October 18, 1870) was conducted by francs-tireurs of Cannes
Cannes is one of the best-known cities of the French Riviera, a busy tourist destination and host of the annual Cannes Film Festival. It is a Commune of France in the Alpes-Maritimes department....

 and Nantes
Nantes is a city in western France, located on the Loire River, from the Atlantic coast. The city is the 6th largest in France, while its metropolitan area ranks 8th with over 800,000 inhabitants....

, along with Lipowski's Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...


The German armies and popular press vilified the francs-tireurs as murderers and highwaymen; the insurgents seemed to have a sense of the most vulnerable parts of the German armies in France. The Germans reacted to ambush by francs-tireurs with harsh reprisals against the nearest village or town, where they killed civilians. Whole regiments or divisions often took part in "pacifying actions" in areas with significant franc-tireur activity; this created a lasting enmity and hatred between the occupying German soldiers and French civilians.

World War I

The experiences of French guerrilla attacks and of the asymmetric warfare
Asymmetric warfare
Asymmetric warfare is war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly....

 during the Franco-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...

 had a profound effect on the German General Staff
German General Staff
The German General Staff was an institution whose rise and development gave the German armed forces a decided advantage over its adversaries. The Staff amounted to its best "weapon" for nearly a century and a half....

. During World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, they carried out an unusually harsh and severe occupation of areas which they conquered.

After the war, General Erich Ludendorff
Erich Ludendorff
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff was a German general, victor of Liège and of the Battle of Tannenberg...

, Germany’s chief military strategist and its commander-in-chief on the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

 at the end of the war, tried to defend German behavior in his memoir published in 1919, the two-volume Meine Kriegserinnerungen, 1914-1918. It was published that same year in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 by Hutchinson as My War Memories, 1914–1918 and in New York
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 by Harper as Ludendorff’s Own Story, August 1914–November 1918.

In an article in the September 13, 1919 issue of Illustrated London News, the writer G. K. Chesterton
G. K. Chesterton
Gilbert Keith Chesterton, KC*SG was an English writer. His prolific and diverse output included philosophy, ontology, poetry, plays, journalism, public lectures and debates, literary and art criticism, biography, Christian apologetics, and fiction, including fantasy and detective fiction....

 responded to Ludendorff's book by remarking:

"It is astounding how clumsy Prussians are at this sort of thing. Ludendorff cannot be a fool, at any rate, at his own trade; for his military measures were often very effective. But without being a fool when he effects his measures, he becomes a most lurid and lamentable fool when he justifies them. For in fact he could not have chosen a more unfortunate example. A franc-tireur is emphatically not a person whose warfare is bound to disgust any soldier. He is emphatically not a type about which a general soldierly spirit feels any bitterness. He is not a perfidious or barbarous or fantastically fiendish foe. On the contrary, a 'franc-tireur' is generally a man for whom any generous soldier would be sorry, as he would for an honourable prisoner of war. What is a 'franc-tireur'? A 'franc-tireur' is a free man, who fights to defend his own farm or family against foreign aggressors, but who does not happen to possess certain badges and articles of clothing catalogued by Prussia in 1870. In other words, a 'franc-tireur' is you or I or any other healthy man who found himself, when attacked, in accidental possession of a gun or pistol, and not in accidental possession of a particular cap or a particular pair of trousers. The distinction is not a moral distinction at all, but a crude and recent official distinction made by the militarism of Potsdam."

World War II

Two major Résistance
- Physics :* Electrical resistance, a measure of the degree to which an object opposes an electric current through it* Friction, the force that opposes motion** Drag , fluid or gas forces opposing motion and flow...

 groups adopted the name Franc-Tireur during the German occupation of France during the Second World War. The first to be established was the Franc-Tireur (movement)
Franc-Tireur (movement)
Franc-Tireur was a French Resistance movement founded at Lyon in November 1940 under the name "France Liberté". It was renamed "Franc-Tireur" in December 1941 on the proposal of Jean-Jacques Soudeille...

, founded in Lyon in 1940. The second was Francs-tireurs partisans (FTP, Partisan irregular riflemen), which were established as the military branch of the French Communist Party
French Communist Party
The French Communist Party is a political party in France which advocates the principles of communism.Although its electoral support has declined in recent decades, the PCF retains a large membership, behind only that of the Union for a Popular Movement , and considerable influence in French...

 (PFC). They became active in the resistance after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. The groups named themselves after the French irregular light infantry and saboteurs who fought the Germans during the Franco-Prussian War.

Although individual communists opposed the German occupation of France, the official Communist position was not to offer resistance, as the Soviet Union was in a non-aggression pact
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, was an agreement officially titled the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union and signed in Moscow in the late hours of 23 August 1939...

 with Germany. After the German invasion
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 on 22 June 1941, this position changed. (For more information on the Soviet Union during World War II, see the article titled "German-Soviet War".)

The PFC initially called their group the Organisation Spéciale (OS); a number of its leaders had served in the International Brigades
International Brigades
The International Brigades were military units made up of volunteers from different countries, who traveled to Spain to defend the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939....

 during the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

 (notably, "Colonel
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

" Henri Rol-Tanguy
Henri Rol-Tanguy
Henri Rol-Tanguy was a French communist and a leader in the French Resistance during World War II.-Biography:...


FTP became the first resistance group in France to deliberately kill a German. In February 1944, the FTP agreed to merge with the Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur.

After World War II, the PCF called itself the "party of 80,000 executed people" (le parti des 80 000 fusillés); it had great electoral success due to the FTP's prestige as a major part of the Résistance.

The foreign workers' section of the FTP, the FTP-MOI
The Francs-tireurs et partisans – main-d'œuvre immigrée were a sub-group of the Francs-tireurs et partisans organization, a component of the French Resistance. A wing composed mostly of foreigners, the MOI maintained an armed force to oppose the German occupation of France during World War II...

 (Francs-Tireurs Partisans - Main d'Œuvre Immigrée), became especially famous after the Manouchian Group was captured, its members executed, and ten of its members advertised as foreign criminals by the infamous Affiche Rouge
Affiche Rouge
The Affiche Rouge is a famous propaganda poster, distributed by Vichy French and German authorities in the spring of 1944 in occupied Paris, to discredit 23 French Resistance fighters, members of the Manouchian Group...

. The Manouchian Group operated in the Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 metropolitan area, but other FTP-MOI groups operated in Lyons and the South of France, where they carried out armed resistance. Many of its immigrant members throughout the country were Jewish artists, writers and intellectuals, who had gone to France for the cultural circles in Paris. Others had taken refuge in France to escape Nazi persecution in their home countries. Alter Mojze Goldman
Alter Mojze Goldman
Alter Mojze Goldman was a Polish Jew who was active in the French Résistance during World War II.He was born in Lublin after the death of his father. He fled to France at the age of fifteen because of anti-Semitism. However, he was disappointed with reality in France and tried Germany...

, father of Pierre Goldman
Pierre Goldman
Pierre Goldman, was a French left-wing intellectual who was convicted of several robberies and mysteriously assassinated. It has been suspected that the Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación death squad was involved in his murder...

 and Jean-Jacques Goldman
Jean-Jacques Goldman
Jean-Jacques Goldman is a Grammy Awards-winning French singer-songwriter. He is hugely popular in the French-speaking world, and since 2003 was the second-highest-grossing French living pop singer, after Johnny Hallyday.- Biography :...

, was a member of FTP-MOI.

Prisoner status

Before the two world war
World war
A world war is a war affecting the majority of the world's most powerful and populous nations. World wars span multiple countries on multiple continents, with battles fought in multiple theaters....

s, the term Franc-tireur was sometimes used for an armed fighter who, if captured, was not necessarily entitled to prisoner of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 status. An issue of disagreement at the 1899 Hague Conference, the controversy generated the Martens Clause
Martens Clause
The Martens Clause was introduced into the preamble to the 1899 Hague Convention II – Laws and Customs of War on Land.The clause took its name from a declaration read by Fyodor Fyodorovich Martens, the Russian delegate at the Hague Peace Conferences 1899 and was based upon his words:The...

. The Martens Clause was introduced as a compromise between the Great Power
Great power
A great power is a nation or state that has the ability to exert its influence on a global scale. Great powers characteristically possess military and economic strength and diplomatic and cultural influence which may cause small powers to consider the opinions of great powers before taking actions...

s, who considered francs-tireurs to be unlawful combatants subject to execution on capture, and smaller states, who maintained that they should be considered lawful combatants.

After World War II, during the Hostages Trial
Hostages Trial
The Hostages Trial was held from8 July 1947 until 19 February 1948 and was the seventh of the twelve trials for war crimes the U.S. authorities held in their occupation zone in Germany in Nuremberg after the end of World War II. These twelve trials were all held before U.S...

 (or, officially, The United States of America vs. Wilhelm List, et al.), the seventh of the Nuremberg Trials
Subsequent Nuremberg Trials
The Subsequent Nuremberg Trials were a series of twelve U.S...

, the tribunal found that, on the question of partisans, according to the then-current laws of war
Laws of war
The law of war is a body of law concerning acceptable justifications to engage in war and the limits to acceptable wartime conduct...

 (the Hague Convention No. IV from 1907
Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907)
The Hague Conventions were two international treaties negotiated at international peace conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands: The First Hague Conference in 1899 and the Second Hague Conference in 1907...

), the partisan fighters in southeast Europe could not be considered lawful belligerents under Article 1 of said convention. In relation to Wilhelm List, the tribunal stated:

"We are obliged to hold that such guerrillas were francs tireurs who, upon capture, could be subjected to the death penalty. Consequently, no criminal responsibility attaches to the defendant List because of the execution of captured partisans..."

The Geneva Conventions
Geneva Conventions
The Geneva Conventions comprise four treaties, and three additional protocols, that establish the standards of international law for the humanitarian treatment of the victims of war...

 established new protocols, namely, according to Article 4 of the Third Geneva Convention
Third Geneva Convention
The Third Geneva Convention, relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, is one of the four treaties of the Geneva Conventions. It was first adopted in 1929, but was significantly updated in 1949...

 of 1949, francs-tireurs are entitled to prisoner of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 status provided that they are commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates, have a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance, carry arms openly, and conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

Other uses

Le Franc-Tireur was the name of an underground French Resistance
French Resistance
The French Resistance is the name used to denote the collection of French resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and against the collaborationist Vichy régime during World War II...

newspaper published by the group in Lyon by the same name.
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